Tuesday, November 15, 2005
Heels together. Toes out. Hands at your sides. Raise the leg of your choice right in front of you, six inches off the ground, leg straight, toe pointed. Keep your eyes on your raised toe and begin counting aloud from 1,001 until I say stop.
Do you understand? Begin.
One thousand one. One thousand two . . .
Some dark night on the side of the road, police lights flashing in your peripheral vision, your freedom may depend on how well you do this.
Did you sway? Raise your arms for balance? How about hop? Or put your foot down? If you did any two, a police officer will conclude with 65 percent accuracy, as stipulated in the prevailing science of inebriation diagnostics, that you may be too drunk to drive.
And if you bent your leg, stared straight ahead instead of at your foot or began before I said so, you may be in trouble. Police officers are taught that people under the influence of alcohol don't follow directions well.
If you made it through 30 seconds ramrod straight, congratulations! You may not be drunk.
This is the one-leg stand -- OLS in cop-speak. It is one of the three scientifically researched standardized field sobriety tests, blessed by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, that officers call "the holy grail" and give on the side of the road to help them decide whether to make a drunk driving arrest.
NHTSA says police officers who use scores from all three tests combined will be 91 percent accurate in making an arrest. However, in Washington last May, Officer Dennis Fair arrested Debra Bolton, an Alexandria attorney, after determining that she'd failed all three. Bolton, who'd had a glass of red wine with dinner, hotly disagreed. She said she distinctly remembered mentally thanking her yoga instructor for her steady balance during the one-leg stand, and challenged the charges until they were dropped in late August.
The most accurate of the three, according to NHTSA, is the horizontal gaze nystagmus test -- or the "jerking eyeball" test. A police officer will hold a penlight or small flashlight in front of you and ask you to track it visually from side to side. If you've had too much to drink, your eyeballs will begin shaking at about 45 degrees from center.